Movies in Brief

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

R, 96 minutes

“The Quiet,” written by Abdi Nazemian and Micah Schraft and directed by Jamie Babbit, is a silly idea for a movie. Dot (Camilla Belle), an orphaned high school girl who is apparently deaf and dumb like her late father, goes to live with the dysfunctional family of her late mother’s best friend, Olivia Deer (Edie Falco). Once there, she becomes the recipient of everybody’s secrets because it is assumed that she can neither hear nor repeat them.

This would be hard enough to swallow, but it gets worse. As she takes on board the pill-popping Olivia’s real opinion of her mother, the masturbatory habits of a boyfriend (Shawn Ashmore), the sexual abuse of her adoptive sister (Elisha Cuthbert) by her father (Martin Donovan), the father’s confession, and the sister’s plans to kill him — none of it intended to be heard by her — Dot becomes an evermore Godlike figure. She imagines she is invisible to others, and she becomes allseeing, all-knowing, and claimant of the right to vengeance.

Sound creepy? Alas, it’s not. Dot is too solemn and boring. Perhaps to underline her links to the divine, she plays piano sonatas by Beethoven, whose music and whose deafness she discusses in voiceover monologues. Sample: “I imagine his mind must have been the loudest silence in history.”

Words to remember! Or rather, to sound impressive and then be forgotten. Ms. Belle already has one movie about incest under her belt, Rebecca Miller’s “Ballad of Jack and Rose,” in which she also plays a highly moral immoralist. As she is not yet 20, you’d think she’d be looking to broaden her range a little.

Meanwhile, Ms. Falco pushes her capacity for wifely denial, already pretty impressive on “The Sopranos,” to new heights, and Mr. Donovan is a mere caricature. Ms. Cuthbert’s learning how not to be a mean girl must have something said for it, but all in all you’d have to say there’s not much here to tempt anyone who has completed high school.

– James Bowman

PG, 128 minutes

“Invincible” is the second film in as many weeks purporting to be a true story set in the gritty Italian neighborhoods of South Philadelphia. “10th & Wolf” was an overwrought gangster flick that was the victim of its own cynicism. “Invincible” is just the opposite: a Cinderella story that is just a bit too starry-eyed for its own good.

Mark Wahlberg plays Vince Papale, a schoolteacher and part-time bartender who, one day back in 1977, answered a call for open tryouts with the Philadelphia Eagles. It was really a publicity stunt by the team’s new coach, Dick Vermeil, but Vince actually made the team.

Sports films all have a certain sameness to them, and “Invincible” is no exception. But director Ericson Core and writer Brad Gann see Vince’s story as inspirational not just on its own account, but as a ray of hope for Philadelphia — images of urban and industrial decay are constantly being sought out by the camera — and for factory workers like Vince’s dad (Kevin Conway) throughout the Rust Belt, whose jobs are disappearing.

The film that it most resembles is “Rocky,” which came out in the same year that “Invincible” begins and likewise saw its bedraggled hero as an emblem of Philadelphia’s bloody but unbowed spirit. Vince is a perfect, real-life Rocky. He was older, never played college football, regarded by his wife and others as a failure, and got insulted and badly beaten up on the field by the regular players.

Rocky famously said, “All I wanna do is go the distance. … If I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.”

This is the equivalent of Vince’s friends telling him that “even if you’re down there” — that is, at Veterans Stadium as an Eagle — “for one hour, you’re down there.” Or, “This is a good thing, even if it’s just for a day…”

Vince never became a superstar, never led his team to the Super Bowl, but he stood up to those whose success he saw as a reproach to him and earned their respect as an equal.

It’s a genuinely inspirational message — a symbolic triumph not only for declining Philadelphia but for people everywhere who are afraid that their lives are failures. The words of the note Vince’s wife writes to him when she leaves him — “You’ll never go anywhere; you’ll never make any money; you’ll never make a name for yourself” — are what inspire him to succeed, and they must haunt many who appear to the world to be living comfortable and happy lives.

But, as in Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center,” there’s also a hint of victim-chic in this, a tendency to wallow in Vince’s sorrow that may remind us of Sylvester Stallone’s reveling in Rocky’s post-fight appearance with a face like a piece of raw meat.

The movies have a hard time with those who dare greatly and win — those who, like James J. Braddock in “Cinderella Man”, actually get to be champs for a little while — but like Vince they can be proud of themselves for daring at all.

– James Bowman

R, 107 minutes

The premise of “Queens,” a cluttered and flat Spanish comedy, only recently became plausible. Enfranchised by their country’s new same-sex marriage bill, three pairs of gay young men plan to get hitched at the inaugural mass ceremony. But though the legal obstacles are gone, maternal ones remain. And the matriarchs, the real center of the movie, are a formidable lot, mostly a company of Almodóvar all-stars including that director’s greatest muse, Carmen Maura, and Marisa Paredes of “All About My Mother.”

The potential for entanglement and the cast of willful women portends some early-Almodóvar verve and intrigue, but “Queens” never gets past genial. Director Manuel Gomez Pereira shuffles dully, telenovela-style, through the ready-made conflicts spurred by each mother before the wedding. Charmingly manipulative Ofelia (Betiana Blum) comes from Argentina to visit her son and his fianceé but secretly plans to stay for months (along with her sheepdog). Nuria (Veronica Forqué), a repentant sex addict, sleeps with her son’s momentarily confused beau. Wellknown actress Reyes (Ms. Paredes) crosses castes to eye her equally proud gardener; their sons are marrying, too. And Magda (Ms. Maura), another mother, runs a hotel and works too much.

There’s also Helena (Mercedes Sampietro), a judge in denial about her son’s sexuality, but her character is the most underdeveloped of the bunch. Forget about distinguishing the guys themselves. They show up to seethe about their mothers and rapidly underestimate each other’s commitments. Typical is Miguel (Unax Ugalde), Ofelia’s son-in-law, who is mostly identifiable by a blond dye job and a sustained snit.

It’s hard even to get worked up over the film’s neatly tied-up ending (in which Ofelia saves the progressive day by organizing women to cook for the banquet). Why bother, when you can see these actresses at their best in the Viva Pedro retrospective making the rounds this month.

– Nicolas Rapold

PG-13, 89 minutes

Mockumentaries don’t have to pick hard targets to be good. Just ask Christopher Guest, fearless lampooner of dog shows and vapid folkies. The problem with “Surviving Eden” isn’t its subject — the instant pseudo-fame endowed by a “Survivor” knockoff — but an aching lack of laughs or imagination. That’s something more serious, which no number of pet-pig gags or off-color zingers by Cheri Oteri can cure.

Dennis Flotchky (Michael Panes) is an overweight convenience store clerk (with a pet pig) who wins the TV reality show “Surviving Eden.” Ms. Oteri plays his abrasive rising-star Svengali, Maria, formerly his co-contestant, who hooks him by pretending to be pregnant with their child. His true love, of course, should be Sister Agnes (Savannah Haske), a fresh-faced metalhead nun who was also on the show. (In one of the movie’s better jokes, she’s now constantly pitching scripts.)

The attraction of the mockumentary format to would-be comedy writers is understandable: easy cuts to one-liner interview clips, the gonzo potential of dead air, the privilege of ignoring a narrative flow. But “Surviving Eden” has neither fine-tuned timing nor strong material, and often throws away its good lines. And as Dennis blows through his cash (in scenes that will have you wishing for “The Jerk”), side bits featuring his forgotten friend Sterno (Peter Dinklage) and two gauche TV producers go nowhere.

Mr. Panes shows flashes of a workable naive deadpan, especially in a news conference scene, but can’t carry the movie. Some would say Ms. Oteri is wasted, but she has always seemed more a refugee from a “Mad” show screaming contest than “Saturday Night Live,” and anyway lacks pep here. I’m more perplexed by the director John Landis, who turns up in a recurring bit as a Hollywood shrink.

– Nicolas Rapold

The New York Sun

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